The Rogers County Board of Commissioners Monday set May 14 as Election Day for the renewal of the five-year one-cent road tax.
The meeting featured several comments and questions from the public about the tax that annually generates about $6 million.
Originally, the item was posted on the agenda for permanent renewal at the request of Commissioner Mike Helm.
After much discussion, the board decided to keep the term at five years.
City of Claremore Mayor Mickey Perry informally spoke on behalf of all municipalities in Rogers County.
Area municipalities are currently at a three to four percent sales tax rate, according to Perry.
Cities generate the majority of the sales tax revenue, he added.
Why not include the .33 cent sales tax that is paying the Material Services $30 million lawsuit into this tax, lowering the overall tax rate, Perry asked.
“It will allow us [municipalities] to be more competitive,” Perry said. “I am respectfully requesting you include the penny instead of on top of it.”
Other citizens including Tommy Dyer, spokesman for the Citizens for Rogers County 2013, congratulated the BOCC for having the “best roads in the state.”
Dyer along with other county residents have formed a committee of private citizens and have launched the “Yes for Roads” campaign in support of the tax.
“I think it would be great if the road tax was permanent,” Dyer said.
“I am working with the group and we are registered with the ethics commission,” Faith Wiley added.
Wiley and her husband John currently publish the Oologah Lake Leader.
Commissioner Kirt Thacker said the BOCC is not funding any efforts to support the renewal, but made it very clear the impact the tax would have on the county.
“There is some misconception about the one-cent,” Thacker said.
People believe the county gets federal money or grant money to maintain the roads and that is not accurate, Thacker added.
“We [the commissioners] understand how much money it takes to run the county,” Thacker said.
The county pays part of the employee salaries from the one-cent, he added.
“If the one-cent goes away about two thirds of the employees goes away,” Thacker said. “Without the one-cent you may get your ditches mowed once but snow patrol is not happening. There will be no weed eating around the stop signs. If you have no money you do without. It would be detrimental to the county.”
The BOCC explained that the tax is crucial for road maintenance and growth in the county.
Businesses are more likely to come to the county if the roads are well maintained, according to the board.
Additionally, road repairs keep car maintenance cost down for citizens and schools, they added.
“I can see how businesses come in and want new roads but a big ticket item comes at a higher sales tax,” Linda Batty said.
If businesses are selling a large ticket item, do people buy it in Rogers County or do they drive over 20 miles to Owasso to buy it, she added.
At the end of the year, small purchases turn out to be as much as a big-ticket item, according to Perry.
“I think it would help the cities to be competitive to put the .33 cent tax under the one-cent tax,” Perry said.
“Claremore generates about half, that means all the smaller cities generates the other half. It is a place where everyone has to work towards the same goal,” Thacker said. “We are on the right track.”
What is bad when people go to Owasso or Pryor to shop, according to Thacker.
Yet, every time a new business comes in, it is good for all of Rogers County, he added.
The road tax brings development to Rogers County and builds business, according to Thacker.
Other citizens raised various concerns, Chad Choat took issue with the permanent nature of the tax.
If another unforeseen circumstance were to arise, like the lawsuit then the county would have limited options, according to Choat.
“An open dialog is a good thing to have, personally five years works for me,” Thacker said. “The one-cent frees up money from the general budget. It is not a scare tactic, this is a real situation, and without this money people lose their jobs.”
Losing the funds will take money away from general government and each office, he added.
“The Mayor has a very good point,” Commissioner Dan DeLozier said. “The big misconception people have is that people think that ad volorem taxes go to roads and bridges.”
Another issue is that the county has had 17 FEMA disasters in 3.5 years, according to DeLozier.
The federal funds allowed the commissioner to do more than usual.
Without these funds, the county is very restricted on what projects can be completed, he added.
The cost of doing business has increased, according to the BOCC.
Asphalt alone has more than doubled, lowering the impact the funds make in each district, Thacker added.
Helm withdrew making the tax permanent and made a motion for the five -year renewal. The motion carried with support of all three members.